The Cliffs of Insanity: Honor the Past & Press Play, Not Pause

John Stewart Green Lantern
Green Lantern John Stewart in the Justice League Unlimited animated series. He’s  my kids’  favorite Green Lantern. Copyright DC Comics.

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. Today, we honor two pioneering comic creators, one of whom can still be helped. Check at the bottom of the column for how you can be a hero for the creator of Rocket Raccoon, currently appearing in the new Guardians of the Galaxy trailer.

First, I wanted to talk about a comic creator, Dwayne McDuffie, who is sadly not with us any longer. Still, we can carry on his work.

I’ve talked a great deal about issues facing women in comics, particularly the lack of female writers at the big two publishers, Marvel and DC Comics. But the myriad issues facing minorities, particularly African-Americans, about breaking into comics also deserve the light shined on them as well.

“There are less writers of color in the combined creative pool of the top two publishers of comic books then there were at Milestone in 1993.” 

Yesterday marked the birthday of the late Dwayne McDuffie, who left behind a body of work that includes co-founding Milestone Media. Milestone led to McDuffie writing and story-editing episodes of  the popular Static Shock animated show. From there, McDuffie became a staff writer for the Justice League animated series and story editor and producer of Justice League Unlimited. During his time with both shows, McDuffie wrote, produced, or story-edited 69 out of the 91 episodes of the series.

If you came to a love of superheroes via the animated universe, you owe a great deal to McDuffie. He’s largely shaped the image of DC heroes to the public-at-large.

Unfortunately, McDuffie didn’t get nearly enough comic writing work during his lifetime, even from DC Comics, and there currently are no signs that either DC or Marvel is committed to providing work to minority writers of talent.

The quote above is from a column at ComicbookResources.com by creator Joseph Illidge, a former Milestone editor and currently the head writer for Verge Entertainment. Illidge’s column it part of a month-long series running on CBR, The Color Barrier, which is spotlighting a number of minority creators. 

When DC or Marvel asks who they should hire, they should immediately check out the creators from this CBR series and also this list of Quality Black Produce Independent Comic Titles from the foolscrusade tumblr.

Why is representation so important, for women, for minorities, and for others currently locked out of the mainstream superhero world?

Because, superheroes have moved beyond the realm of comics and become pop culture icons. The stories our society tells about itself is our present-day mythology. If the only people who can be heroes are straight white men and the only people who can create these heroes are straight white men, what does that say about us as a society?

Nothing good.

And speaking of honoring storytellers….

Bill Mantlo needs your help.

This is your chance to be a hero by helping a storyteller from Marvel’s history. I knew Mantlo’s work first from Iron Man and collected his runs on Micronauts, Rom: Spaceknight, and The Spectacular Spider-Man. He’s entered the news this week for two reasons.

One is that he created Rocket Raccoon. Two,  he was struck by a car in 1992 and suffered catastrophic head injuries. He’s required full-time medical care ever since.

Rocket Raccoon
Rocket Raccoon as written by Bill Mantlo, copyright Marvel Comics

As his work for Marvel was work-for-hire, Mantlo and his caretakers get absolutely nothing in compensation from The Guardians of the Galaxy movie. This isn’t the time or place to debate the merits of work-for-hire but it is the time and place to ask Marvel Entertainment to consider making a gesture to someone who contributed so much to a property likely to make them millions of dollars in profits this year.

But you can be a hero too, either by directly donating funds to Mantlo’s family by using these buttons provided by comic writer Greg Pak or by donating to The Hero Initiative, a charity that specializes in helping out comic creators in serious financial need.

We’re living in a golden age of geekdom where it’s now popular to love superheroes and show off our geek pride. Let’s remember those that provided the imagination and the stories on which the framework of the current day success is built.

And let’s also remember that the framework will be stronger if it includes everyone, on the page and behind the scenes, rather than being restricted to only one segment of our society.

Rocket_Raccoon_film
Rocket Raccoon in The Guardians of the Galaxy, image Marvel Entertainment

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Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.